Monday morning I moved from contemplation to action. As I stood among those trespassing on the construction site, an officer approached, barely in my periphery. “You’re under arrest,” he said, sliding two thin, interlocked, plastic strips over my wrists. One slipped loose and he tightened both, severely inhibiting circulation in my left arm. “I want to thank you for wasting our time!” he said, oozing tension and frustration. The sentiment he voiced was not unusual, nor unreasonable.
Whether such actions are a waste of time is something I ask myself continually, but he didn’t see our commonality. His distance from me and our intentions weighed heavy on my heart.
Other officers were more open, if not to our cause, to our humanity. The two I approached about my cuffs apologized. The bus driver told jokes and tolerated our impromptu, uproarious, renditions of freedom songs. Passed from one officer to another, further and further from natural light and air—from an outdoor corral, to a bus, to a garage, to a “lobby” behind bars, to a holding cell—my compassion for these men and women, invested by the state with power to enforce constructed law, steadily grew. They spent as much, if not more time behind bars than many inmates, pushing paper and people across dingy cement surfaces beneath the flickering glow of fluorescent lights. A middle-aged woman writing my ticket expressed her regret at not having retired sooner. A young woman who had been firing off routine inquiries slowed with dubious appreciation when I asked about her day. A weary male guard entered the women’s cell announcing blankly, “Male-entering,” moving in and out with evident detachment.
I caught myself falling into the automaton mentality the environment induced. Bologna sandwiches had just been distributed. I picked at mine, deep in discernment about whether I should deviate from my meatless ways to consume this finely processed food-stuff. Suddenly, my name was called by an officer outside the cell. My immediate reaction was to hurriedly obey, handing off my sandwiches and heading out of the cell without so much as saying goodbye or sharing an embrace with the sisters I was leaving. I was directed in reverse through halls, picking up the belongings I’d relinquished on the way in, and brought without explanation back to the garage. The door was opened and the light poured in. “I can just walk out?” I asked the woman standing stiffly in the shadows. She nodded. I walked like one waking from a dream, dazzled by the brightness that engulfed me.
This small incident of obedience to conscience that required civil rebellion, offered a unique taste of liberty and shifted my relationship to societal ideas of what is normal and acceptable; what is right and wrong. I cannot say for certain what is absolutely good or just. I don’t know the perfect way to respond in love to the brokenness of our earth that I, sadly, continue to contribute to. But I glimpse a good way in the image of life immersed in community, continually stirred to action, prodded to wakefulness. I feel buoyed by the perpetual promise of resurrection that assures me I can continue to pour myself out, to do what scares me to death, trusting in the assurance that I will be born again to life abundant.